According to Robert Hutkins, professor of food science, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, our gut microbiota contains tens of trillions of microorganisms from more than 1,000 different species having a cumulative genetic base of more than 3 million genes. He also stated the gut microbiota could weigh up to 2 kg (4.4 pounds). The microorganisms are found in the stomach, and small and large intestines.
Misbalances in the gut microbiota can lead to diarrhea, constipation, inflammatory bowel and other gut ailments. Even diabetes and allergies have been connected to the state of the gut microbiome, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP).
Probiotics are a group of beneficial microorganisms found in the gut. The World Health Organization (WHO) said probiotics, when taken in adequate quantities, confer a health benefit to the host. The most common probiotic bacteria belong to two genera—Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other genera included in this group are Enterococcus and Streptococcus, to name a few.
The protective role of probiotics in digestion is now well established. A 2012 meta-analysis of 74 studies, 84 trials and 10,351 patients showed probiotics are beneficial adjuncts in treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal (GI) diseases.(PLOS ONE 2012; 7(11):E48221)
Dietary supplements, pharmaceutical products, medical foods, infant formula, fermented foods such as fresh yogurt, fermented milk, aged cheese, kimchi, craft beer, miso, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or pickles, sourdough bread, etc., contain probiotic bacteria.
In some of these products, the bacteria are killed during processing. This happens in the process of baking or when the product is exposed to heat. In the case of aged cheese, bacteria die with time.
Learn more about probiotic health benefits and manufacturing techniques in INSIDER’s Probiotic Ingredient Science Digital Magazine.
Sudhir Ahluwalia is a business consultant. He has been management consulting head of Tata Consultancy Services, an IT outsourcing company in Asia, business advisor to multiple companies, columnist and author of an upcoming book on herbs, “Holy Herbs.” He was a member of the Indian Forest Service.